Round up #300: best books, books on buses

Round up #300: best books, books on buses

The ILMK Round ups are short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

That’s right…300!

Wow! This is the 300th round-up! The first one was on October 24th, 2009. Let’s see, that means I have averaged…just about one a week (one every 6.9 days). That seems about right. I have a lot of fun doing them, and they are often a way for me to make a quick mention of something which I can’t (at least at that time) expand into its own post.

There are also times when it lets me let you know about something before I feel like I’ve really explored it. I might hear about something complicated, or controversial, and not be ready to give an evaluation…but still want you to be informed.

Amazon’s Best Books of the Year So Far

Amazon has announced their

Best Books of the Year So Far (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

They didn’t just name ten or twenty…here is the list:

  • Best Books of the Year So Far
  • Amazon Editors’ Top 20 (15)
  • Amazon Editors’ Top 20 Children’s Books (20)
  • Arts & Photography (20)
  • Audiobooks (16)
  • Biographies & Memoirs (19)
  • Business & Leadership (20)
  • Children’s Books (100)
  • Comics & Graphic Novels (16)
  • Cookbooks, Food & Wine (20)
  • Crafts, Hobbies & Home (20)
  • Fashion (15)
  • History (19)
  • Humor & Entertainment (20)
  • Kindle Singles (20)
  • Literature & Fiction (16)
  • Mystery, Thriller & Suspense (19)
  • Nonfiction (18)
  • Romance (13)
  • Science Fiction & Fantasy (17)
  • Teens & Young Adults (20)

Their top book overall?

H is for Hawk (at AmazonSmile*)
by Helen Macdonald
4.2 stars out of 5 | 384 customer reviews

Two updates

On my Kindle Fire HDX, it’s clear that there has been some (minor?) update to the Amazon Kindle reader. I’m at 9.9, and I’ve noticed a couple of changes.

When I tap the top middle of the page to bring up the menus, a little thumbnail of the cover now appears.

The other thing is that the text-to-speech (something I use every day) play arrow is on the right when it used to be on the left.

Doesn’t sound like much, but that’s all I’ve noticed so far.

The other update was to my

Amazon Fire Phone (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

It looked like a system update…but it was showing Voice Input. I’m not noticing any difference, and I did test it with a few things. Still, it’s nice to see the Fire Phone still getting love. 😉

Books on Buses

I love it when adults read, but I do think it’s important and special when people take steps to encourage children to read. According to this

WDBJ7 by Jean Jadhon

the city of Roanoke, Virginia is doing a summer reading program on city buses.

There will be book bags at the front of the buses.

Parents (hopefully, legal guardians) with children can take a bag. It will have five books in it…and they can even take a book home, sort of like a library. They would bring it back later.

I think that’s great!

This was my favorite part of the whole article, though:

“I love reading books!” children chanted as they stood outside the Roanoke City Main Library Monday.”


The future is bright…

Amazon Echo mini-round up


Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

went on public pre-order yesterday. I will be covering it as part of this blog, but yesterday’s post just on it was an anomaly. 🙂 A few notes…

  • The return policy wasn’t on the product page…I was assuming it was thirty days, like Kindles and  Fires, but it isn’t. It’s 180 days! That’s right…about six months
  • There are now over 20,000 reviews…still average 4.5 stars
  • Somebody asked, so I checked: yes, it works with a synthesized voice. That can be important for people with certain challenges who need to use a synthesizer
  • I liked that it knew the appropriate response to, “Alexa:  Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?”
  • There are still pop culture questions and answers I think it should know…and I may set up something to inform Amazon. For example, I asked it today, “Alexa: who knows what evil lurks within the hearts of men?” The appropriate answer, of course, is “The Shadow knows…” followed by a maniacal laugh. I think people would really like it when the Echo said something like, “Ha haha haha” for the laugh 🙂

When is an average not an average?

I have to say, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this.

According to this

CNET article by Ben Fox Rubin

and other sources, Amazon is changing its review system.

Certainly, the current system is flawed. There have been a lot of problems with…biased reviews, even ones which have apparently been purchased. For example, a company might give you a free copy of a book, if you are willing to write a five star review of it.

Amazon’s approach is going to be to use “machine learning” to put more weight on more popular and more recent reviews.

In terms of moving them up higher on the page, I have no problem with that. We’ve had those “most useful” reviews for a while.

What concerns me is that those weightings will affect the average of stars (which I often report…I did it on the Macdonald book above, for example).

I’m going to guess that the specific algorithm is not going to be revealed…so we will no longer know what 4.5 stars really means.

I’d be okay with it with the option to see either one…unweighted or weighted.

I’d also like to see an option to see the difference between Amazon Verified Purchase reviews and non-verified…that seems like useful data.

However, let’s just make something up. 🙂

Let’s say (and again, I have no reason to think these are the numbers) that reviews posted in the last week are worth twice as much as older reviews.

A book had five reviews which were all three stars more than a week ago.

Now, the publisher gets five people to put in five star reviews all at once.

The older reviews are worth 15 “points”. The new ones are worth 50 points (five reviews of five stars times two).

That makes the average 6.5 stars…on a scale of 1 to 5. 🙂 Presumably, they’d round down to 5 stars.

It would appear the book had a perfect score, despite earlier mediocre reviews.

Now, it could certainly be argued that the newer reviews may be more valid. What if the publisher updated the book, fixing mistakes, and even adding new material?

I just don’t like that I’ll never know what the average actually means, and that I won’t be comparing apples to apples. They may all use the same algorithm, but one review getting votes as useful (when those votes might actually be because the review is well written) could raise the average on a book over another equally liked book.

What do you think? Do you like the new review system? If not, what should Amazon do about the review system, if anything? How about books on buses? Can you think of other ways for cities to encourage reading…and does the choice of the books by the government concern you? What are your best books published in 2015 so far? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


8 Responses to “Round up #300: best books, books on buses”

  1. rogerknights Says:

    I have noticed on certain non-book products that early reviews are unfairly dismissive because of teething problems of various sorts, or lack of documentation, or ad claims that are somewhat inaccurate, or failure to include certain information in the initial Amazon page for the product, etc. (Also when a product’s flaws get fixed after a few years.)

    So I think there’s something to be said for Amazon’s re-weighting.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, rogerknights!

      There are certainly arguments for the weighting…I think the early reviews often don’t mirror the later reviews. One reason for that is that publishers and other product providers sometimes fix issues, perhaps even based on those reviews! So, more recent reviews can be more relevant to the version you are contemplating getting.

      However, I just don’t want my only choice for an average to be a weighted average. I don’t mind having both available…again, that could be very useful. I’d love to be able to filter the average source in multiple ways: Verified Purchaser versus not; chronology; average of stars in other reviews (wouldn’t it be nice to filter out someone who always gave 1-star reviews…or 5-star reviews); and other options. I’m sure there would be people who would like to be able to do it by aggregate demographic data…women versus men, California versus New York versus Kansas versus Mumbai, and so on.

  2. Harold Delk Says:

    I’m of the belief that the only reviews allowed be those of verified purchasers and reviews of a product not include those dealing with packaging, delivery delays, and other factors having nothing to do with the actual product.

    I do have a big pet peeve: in the Q&A section why do people answerr a question with “I don’t know; I don’t use the product.” … and why does Amazon not clear these off? Does this screwdriver work in Europe on 220v? IDK because I live in Idaho. Gee thanks, that really helped!

    Books on buses going over very well here in Roanoke; it’s only on routes serving the lower income communities right now as a pilot, but will be expanded if successful.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Harold!

      I think one of the issues with that is where you draw the line. I think a lot of people would agree that if someone has never used a product, they shouldn’t be writing a review. What if somebody say, “I tried it once”? How about a couple of times? That’s why I’d like to see filters. My only real concern, as I’ve indicated, is that an average isn’t really an average.

      Glad hear that Virginia is also for book lovers! 😉

  3. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I think that a distinction between “book” reviews, and other product reviews might be helpful.

    I have recently been in the market for a new network router. When I go to various product pages, I often see fairly high reviews — lot of them saying “great product”; “best thing I’ve ever bought”, etc. Many of these are from users who have had the product for a couple of weeks or less. Then, there are a few more elaborate “deep” technical reviews that indicate some disturbing issues like the router “dropping” the internet connection from time to time, and other concerns (and these problems seem to be prevalent across a range of vendors — which may not be all that surprising given that the underlying chip is the same on most routers).

    These negative or ambivalent reviews will then often include a response from the manufacturer containing some mealy mouthed verbiage, and perhaps a customer service 800 # — thing is the issues never seem to get resolved.

    The global picture based on the reviews is rosy, but the substrate is not so good — so I hope Amazon can do something to make non-book product reviews more useful — although I’m not sure what they can do.

    Book review “inflation” and “deflation” has been a long running problem. It is more prevalent (and often discussed) on web sites like Goodreads (there have even been some vicious “flame wars”).

    The nature of the internet (and all the discussions about “real names” versus aliases) probably makes this an unsolvable problem. I am mildly encouraged that Amazon is at least willing to try some things beyond the status quo.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      For me, the answer would be to let us filter the reviews and get an average on that. People can have “Real Names” on Amazon…I’d be interested to see if the averages were significantly different for those with that designation and those without it, for example.

      • Edward Boyhan Says:

        I’m not sure I understand what you mean by

        “filter the reviews and get an average on that”

        Can you explain how this might work in practice? 😀

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Edward!


        Let’s pretend we go to a product page.

        We are told there are 100 customer reviews, with and average of 3.0 stars out of five.

        We are given a number of filter choices…there might be date range choices (“This Month”, “This Year”, “All Time”), geographic choices (“California”, “New York”), “Verified Purchaser or not, and so on.

        In the case from your comment, we would have a filter for “Real Names Only”, “Exclude Real Names”, or “All Reviewer”.

        Suppose we filter for “Real Names Only”. That gives us (hypothetically) thirty reviews…and the average of those thirty reviews is a perfect 5.0 stars.

        That’s how I would prefer it…so I get a choice of filters.

        The big thing for me is that I always get the choice of an actual average, even if Amazon chooses to do a weighted average.

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